Neanderthal – “an uncivilized, unintelligent, or uncouth person”
Something happened to Lloyd Austin between 1997 and 2003. In 1997, he was the brigade commander of 3rd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division. I arrived as a new infantry platoon leader in 1st Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, at that time and by all accounts, infantry officers I respected spoke highly of him. By 2003, he was a BG and the assistant division commander of the 3rd Infantry Division. At the start of OIF, his division had just efficiently destroyed much of the Iraqi Army and reached Baghdad. This was a tactical and operational victory, not a strategic victory. There is a huge difference as the US military would soon find out. He spoke at a press interview after the initial invasion, denying the emerging violence saying, “There is a perception that crime is rampant. It is not.” Crime was not the issue. The power vacuum being filled by the insurgency was. Thousands of US lives and trillions of dollars later, it was clear his judgement was horribly wrong. There is a tremendous difference between operational and strategic skill.
Years later, President Biden selected Austin to serve as SECDEF. In that capacity he presided over the Afghanistan disaster, vaccine mandate debacle, abysmal recruiting policies, destruction of US military morale, and the introduction of the destructive CRT ideology. Worse, he provided terrible guidance on the war in Ukraine. Beginning as a slow grind, support escalated. Early 2023 saw yet another $40 Billion in military funding for Ukraine (not a lease, no strings attached). For the past year, Austin has not challenged multiple missteps including the President calling Putin a murderer and demanding regime change (presumptive acts of war). This past week, Austin stood proudly behind President Biden at a press conference where Biden stated, “The Secretary of State and the Secretary of the — of the military are behind me. Are — they — they’ve been deeply, deeply involved in this — this whole effort. Armored capability, as General Austin will tell you, spe- — is — has been — has been critical. And that’s why the United States has committed hundreds of armored fighting vehicles to date, including more than 500 as part of the assistance package we announced last Friday. And today — today, I’m announcing that the United States will be sending 31 Abram tanks to Ukraine, the equivalent of one Ukrainian battalion. Secretary Austin has recommended this step because it will enhance the Ukraine’s capacity to defend its territory and achieve its strategic objectives.” During the speech, the President couldn’t remember Austin’s job title.
Sending M1 tanks is a dangerous escalation in the conflict. The President and mass media have done a great job of hyping the war as a harmless venture for lay citizens to discuss for social status in between viewing TikTok videos and working on pronouns. The reality is that although Russia is not nearly as powerful as they once were as the mighty USSR, they still command more nuclear warheads than the US does. Even at the height of the Cold War, US Presidents never called for regime change and further didn’t call Soviet leaders ‘murderers.’ Proxy wars were fought, but great care was taken to ensure they did not escalate into World War 3. Sending advanced US armor to Ukraine is an escalation. This past week a key German leader even stated that NATO is already at war with Russia.
Technology and modern society have made the business of starting wars increasingly dangerous. Drones and separation of the US from most battlefields by thousands of miles have made the harsh reality of war invisible to most Americans. Such rhetoric to joyfully embrace war has not been seen for over 100 years when European leaders and populations gleefully marched to war in 1914. Ukraine face paint and flags on Twitter accounts are all the rage. In 20 years of war, less than 1% of Americans served in Iraq and/or Afghanistan. The US population is so committed to risking war that the US military cannot even come close to meeting its recruiting goals. Modern America has become increasingly content with a small warrior caste fighting its wars so that its non-military majority can go about their lives, pausing only to wave Ukraine flags and fan the flames of larger conflict. A harsh reality of consequences for misguided policy may await America. Is America prepared to lose millions of US military members’ lives if the Ukraine misadventure escalates to a full scale NATO war? Is America prepared for a draft again? How about entire US cities being reduced to rubble in even a limited nuclear exchange. Likely not.
The job of the SECDEF is to advise the president on matters of national security and war. SECDEF Austin, a veteran of war, should know more than most that wars have consequences for nations and for individual soldiers committed to fight. However, he appears to have tipped his hand nearly 20 years ago at a press conference in Iraq in 2003 that he has no grasp of the strategic level of war. Iraq was relatively “cheap” at a loss of approximately 4,000 dead and $2 Trillion in funding. War with Russia will be exponentially higher. As a physician who served in war, however, I view the avoidable loss of even one soldier in battle as too many.
There seems to have been little thought to outcomes and end states. As is most wars, the root causes of this war are not nice and neat. While Russia should never have invaded, both belligerents have strategic grievances with the security situation in Europe that emerged after NATO and the US failed to consider the implications of post-USSR Europe. Further, there seems to be little consideration for how Russia will fit in to the post-conflict world. SECDEF Austin is in over his head.
John Hughes, MD
Veteran of Iraq/Afghanistan
Member of www.starrs.us